[Book Review] Paulo Coelho's Brida (1990)

Night Owl Score - 4/ 5 Hoots



“You need to take risks to follow some paths and abandon others.”

– Brida.

While wandering through the street markets of Dharamshala, a small hill station in India, also the abode of his Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile, I had the fortune of coming across some amazing views which I tried to capture through my camera lens. In the beautiful Himalayan backdrop, spending moments in the bustling market with a frenzy of tourists, and the Indo-Tibetan vibe alive within a bohemian atmosphere was quite intoxicating and added a layer of vibrancy to the whole experience. Being a travel enthusiast and an avid reader, books are the only soul food I crave for. And, as one would expect, this feeling brought me to my final destination in Dharamshala: a small bookstore, mostly consisting of second-hand novels and dusty book covers; not to forget that serene, almost magical scent of used books that brings back fond memories of strangers and little secrets scribbled in the margins.

After spending almost half an hour scanning the same five or six bookshelves (indecisive greed for buying all) I found the perfect novel, fitting my budget (courtesy saved money given by relatives on festivals). Therefore, what attracted me towards ‘Brida’, a novel by Paulo Coelho, was the beautiful cover. So, despite being confused between it and a few other books, it was finally Brida that I decided to spend my money on. For those who are just beginning to step into the Bibliophile club, doing some research beforehand about the books and then purchasing them is highly advised so that the moment you enter a bookstore, the chances of going absolutely crazy with the options in front of you, and accidentally ending up buying the ‘wrong novel’ can be safely evaded. Further, Brida is not your average young adult romance novel with lots of tongue-in-cheek humour and pick-up lines that make you feel as if you’d puke any second. When I say “Books are soul food”, I say it with the thought of books like Brida on my mind, and in my heart.

The mysterious girl on the cover of the novel is exactly the Brida in the book, in thousands of girls, perhaps even inside me and you: she is scared, trying to find meaning in everything that surrounds her. She comes across as courageous yet vulnerable, but more than that, she is unstoppable in her quest to find the knowledge that will enlighten her spirit. In addition to this, she seeks a true love that will consume her whole and let her have the freedom to find purpose in her existence. Thus, Brida is a novice in the beautiful and enchanting world of the Magus (a character in the book) who becomes her guide to everything. Brida seeks her destiny; her story is fictitious yet it has the power to touch the soul of the reader as it is made up of tiny fragments that exist in our not-so-fictional world. As the narration begins, Brida seeks out two teachers. The first is Magus, who teaches her about the tradition of the Sun, in addition to helping her conquer her fears. In Brida, Magus sees his soul mate: essentially, the other half of his own soul. The second teacher is Wicca, who instructs Brida in the knowledge and rituals of the tradition of the Moon. While practising these rituals, studying tarot cards, and dancing to the sound of the world, Brida begins to understand that she is a witch. While the forward movement of the plot is somewhat slow, consisting mostly of conversations between Brida and the characters, the pace begins to quicken when Brida has a vision of a previous life where she is a woman preparing to die with the Cathars in the fortress of Monsegur in thirteenth-century France.

She is then awakened from her vision and proceeds with training in the rituals and practices needed to become a witch. I particularly admired how the story unfolded with grace and was successful in transporting me to a unique world that was simple on the outside, but quite complex on the inside. Throughout the novel, Brida learns various tricks and narrates some anecdotes about her philosophical and magical expedition in discovering her purpose in life, while various characters support her on the way and bring out the vivid colours in her personality.

Towards the close, however, the story lacks a proper ending; that which starts out being about Brida, who is in search for knowledge, ends with her being initiated as a witch. This, to me, was anticlimactic, if not disappointing. Coelho’s novel touches on many subjects relevant to the human condition with a hint of the supernatural thrown in. Among these topics are witchcraft, spirituality, magic, and the search for Self. Perhaps the most important theme prevalent throughout this particular novel is the idea of soul mates. As was the case with Brida, the author emphasizes that it is possible to meet more than one soul mate in life, with each individual resonating with a different aspect of a person’s soul. In true Coelhian style, it all starts from a book store in the centre of Dublin and the author takes us yet again through the pages of a mesmerizing and simple story of a girl named Brida, an Irish kid on a journey like no other, in a world truly strange to us.

As a side note, this book is really good for beginners as well as restless readers, as it can be easily completed in one or two sittings. It may do well in case you have been experiencing a reader's block. The theme is quite philosophical and deep, and fits well into the magical realism category of things. Overall, it is a must-read for everyone, regardless of their age, as it gives one many life lessons and perhaps some answers to the larger questions facing anyone, under any circumstances, especially in the matters of the heart.

Art by Bella Rose (@rosereichart)

This Night Owl Original has been authored by Yastika Sharma.

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